New report finds parents on minimum wage cannot meet basic family costs

Parents working on the ‘national living wage’ still can’t earn enough to provide an acceptable minimum living standard for their children, warns a new report by Loughborough University.

Produced by Professor Donald Hirsch for Child Poverty Action Group, the Cost of a Child in 2016 report draws on what the public says every family requires to meet its basic needs and to participate in society. It is based on a series of calculations, supported by Child Poverty Action Group and the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, systematically monitoring the cost of a child.

Pressure on family budgets looks set to intensify for low-income families, with childcare and housing costs increasingly the deciding factor in whether parents can achieve what the public regards as a minimum standard of living, the report concludes.

Families with two parents working full time on the ‘national living wage’ are 12% short of the basic amount needed for a minimum standard of living – as defined by the public – the report shows. That’s a gap of £50 per week (but a fall on 2014-15 from 16%). For these families, disposable income as a percentage of minimum family costs has grown by 4% since 2012.

For lone parents working full time on the national living wage the shortfall is worse. They are 16% short of what is needed for a minimum living standard (up from 13% in 2014- 15) – a gap of £55 per week. For these families disposable income as a percentage of minimum family costs has fallen by 6% since 2012.

The report finds the minimum cost of a child from birth to 18 is now £151,600 for a couple – a slight increase (1.2%) on 2014-15. For lone parents the cost is £182,589 – a 9% jump on the previous year.

For out-of- work families with two children the gap between their income and the amount needed for a minimum living standard is stark: couples families are 39% short, lone parent families 37%.  

Child benefit plus maximum child tax credit together cover only 72% of the costs of a child for lone parents. The percentage for couple families is 98%.  

Speaking about the report, author Professor Hirsch said:

“Our research shows that faced with a long period of hard times, parents are to some extent pruning what is considered an acceptable minimum living standard, for example accepting more constrained living space and only rare chances to eat out.

“Yet even with these economies, the number of families with less than this minimum continues to grow. This is partly because the parents we talk to agree with governments and social commentators that early childhood experiences are essential for life chances, and include items such as good quality childcare and after school activities in the ‘minimum’ budgets that they construct for families. These things have become more expensive in recent years, while wages have stagnated and benefits have fallen. If family living standards continue to be squeezed in this way, those on the lowest incomes will find it ever harder to give their children a good start to life.”

Child Poverty Action Group Chief Executive Alison Garnham added:

“With inflation low and key household costs falling, parents on the new, so-called, ‘national living wage’ might have expected some breathing space. But our research shows they can’t even cover the costs of basics for their kids.  And much of that is down to soaring childcare costs and rents that are nigh-on unmanageable if you’re on a low wage. 

“The research for our Cost of a Child project draws on what members of the public think is required for a minimum budget – rather than for a life of ease. Our findings show that the new ‘national living wage’ is not enough to offset what has become a toxic mix of high housing and childcare costs combined with cuts to family support. It’s especially hard for lone parents, who have only one income, to get by, compared to couple-families. Our new prime minister wants the country to work for everyone. We will need re-investment in children’s benefits and in a real living wage and action to tackle high housing and childcare costs if it’s to work for ordinary families.”

Notes for editors

Press release reference number: PR 16/131

About the Cost of a Child in 2016 report

  1. The report calculates the costs of a child based on the ‘minimum incomes standard ‘ (MIS) – the income that people need in order to reach a minimal socially acceptable standard of living in the UK. The MIS is calculated by specifying baskets of goods and services (ranging from food, clothing, heating bills, to modest items required for social participation such as buying birthday presents) required by different types of household in order to meet this need. The cost of an individual child is calculated as the difference that the presence of that child makes to the whole family’s budget.
  2. The Cost of a Child in 2016, available on request, was produced by Child Poverty Action Group as part of a programme of work on the cost of a child, also involving the Joseph Rowntree Foundation.
  3. Since April 2016, Universal Credit claimants can claim 85% of actual childcare costs up to £175 per week for one child and £300 for two or more children. But very few families so far are able to claim it as the roll out of UC is proving very slow and won’t be complete until 2022.
  4. Child Poverty Action Group is the leading charity campaigning for the abolition of child poverty in the UK and for a better deal for low-income families and children.
  5. Child Poverty Action Group is the host organisation for the Campaign to End Child Poverty coalition, which has members from across civil society including children’s charities, faith groups, unions and other civic sector organisation, united in their campaigning for public and political commitment to ensure the goal of ending child poverty by 2020 is met.
  6. Professor Donald Hirsch is Director of Loughborough University’s Centre for Research in Social Policy, where he leads the Minimum Income Standard for the UK programme. He has written widely on poverty and related fields. 

For further information about and a copy of the report contact

Jane Ahrends

Child Poverty Action Group Press and Campaigns Officer

Tel. 020 7812 5216 or 07816 909302

About Loughborough University

Loughborough University is equipped with a live in-house broadcast unit via the Globelynx network. To arrange an interview with one of our experts please contact the press office on 01509 223491. Bookings can be made online via

Loughborough is one of the country’s leading universities, with an international reputation for research that matters, excellence in teaching, strong links with industry, and unrivalled achievement in sport and its underpinning academic disciplines.

It has been awarded five stars in the independent QS Stars university rating scheme, putting it among the best universities in the world, and was named the best in the country for its student experience in the 2016 THE Student Experience Survey. Loughborough was ranked 4th in the Guardian University League Table 2017 and 7th in The UK Complete University Guide 2017 and was also named University of the Year in the In the What Uni Student Choice Awards 2015.

Loughborough is consistently ranked in the top twenty of UK universities in the Times Higher Education’s ‘table of tables’ and is in the top 10 in England for research intensity. In recognition of its contribution to the sector, Loughborough has been awarded seven Queen's Anniversary Prizes.

In September 2015 the University opened an additional academic campus in London’s new innovation quarter. Loughborough University London, based on the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, offers postgraduate and executive-level education, as well as research and enterprise opportunities.


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